[one_fourth_last]So I texted my sister the other day, asking her for feedback on an old family recipe I was dabbling with. I sent her a sample and wanted to know what she thought. She liked it very much. She also added that I could add more hot pepper to one of the samples, to clearly differentiate between the hot and the mild one.  

My response was a simple “Thanks.” I was in a rush. I also wanted to make sure I responded.

  • Sister’s response: “Well I didn’t mean it as a criticism.”
  • My response: “I didn’t take it as criticism. I appreciate the feedback (smiley face, kissy face, red hearts). I’ll be sure to add more pepper to the next batch and send you some (wink face and thumbs up).”

How quickly our communication wires got tangled up over such a straightforward transaction.

How many times do you get wires crossed over simple things? 

Imagine this scenario extended in any number of directions – co-workers, leaders, friends, spouse, children, neighbours – where a quick digital response given with one intention, ends up upsetting the other person.

This brings up two very important points about the art of communication:

  1. How a person hears and then interprets information is primarily based on past experience, the good and the bad. This goes for co-workers as well as siblings. In my case, a history of sibling rivalry, coupled with a curt text set off a bit of an avalanche, for which I take full responsibility.
  1. Besides, texts and emails miss a key ingredient to communication: your tone of voice. If I had called her instead, I have no doubt that my tone of voice would have conveyed genuine interest in her feedback on a recipe that we both love.  And it would have taken all of 5 minutes.

So, when are texts or emails substitutes for actual conversation?

Dare I say, almost never?  I’ve learned the hard way, with both family and colleagues, that with human contact, a person is privy to your voice, its tone, rhythm and inflections, potentially avoiding all sorts of wire crossings.

So consider emails and texts useful adjuncts rather than substitutes.  They are definitely helpful with rapid follow-up to a conversation, emailing documents and forwarding information. And yes, an emoticon or two often brings a smile to my face.

But before pressing send, ask yourself:  Does this conversation need a more personal approach?  If the answer is yes, or you’re not sure, best to err on the side of caution and dial. You’ll be happy you did.  

What stops you from pressing send and picking up the phone? I look forward to your comments.

2 thoughts on “When are texts substitutes for a human-to-human conversation?”

  1. I think texting makes it too easy to loose one another. Sure, it’s convenient and for quick replies (e.g., to confirm a meeting, go to a movie etc) it makes sense. However for conversations that require a lot of back and forth – I really prefer to speak to the person – it actually saves time. The real question is….are we too tired to engage in conversation because we feel it will take too long or other issues will be presented that we don’t want to discuss? I think it is helpful sometimes to simple say…”look I really need to just touch base on this issue only, cause I have a lot to do now or am very tired etc”. Honesty with ourselves and others.

    1. Dominique Dennery

      Thank you for your insights BA. It’s true that we sometimes avoid conversations that we are afraid will take too long by getting into a number of unresolved issues. Your suggestion to say up front that we would like to focus on the one issue is a good one. It’s easier for both parties to stay focused and come to resolution.
      What I have found is that it can be difficult to contain the conversation if there are lots of pent up feelings. I recently had such a conversation with someone who is close to me and I felt much trepidation. First I set aside quite a bit of time so that I could stay open to what she had to say. Then I made an observation followed by a question and stopped talking. No interruptions, no counterpoint, nothing but pure listening and affirmation of what the other was saying. I found we were able to uncover the issue and find a resolution faster than if I had tried to control the conversation or the outcome. Always learning, so I appreciate the opportunity to exchange these thoughts with you. Take care!

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